Plants for a Thirsty State

Public interest in plants with relatively low water requirements has come and gone several times over the past few decades. Each new dry cycle seems to bring a new awakening, a new missionary movement, and the “learning” of new approaches to gardening. All of these seem to be quickly forgotten soon after the wet years return. In the long run, however, it is clear that with a growing population and (at least in our lifetimes) declining rainfall averages over much of the state, Californians will be gardening with less water, like it or not, even in the best of years. Fortunately, there is already a large body of information on which to draw, some of it–like new developments in drip and spitter irrigation–being compiled continuously in the interest of more economical garden maintenance. Some of the best information on particular plants comes simply from observing neglected or abandoned gardens, regardless of current weather patterns.

Partly by design, partly by pursuing other fancies with plant groups from California, the Southwest, Mexico, temperate South America, Australia and South Africa, we at Suncrest have gradually accumulated a collection of several hundred plants with a record of at least moderate tolerance of summer drought. This means simply that they can be maintained in good condition with substantially less summer irrigation than the average popular garden plant (and vastly less than the lawns that still fill major portions of many California landscapes). The fact that many of these plants are also beautiful, fill nearly every possible garden niche, and collectively provide year-round seasonal interest, would make them desirable garden candidates even if water were not an issue.

You can use the alphabetical listings below (with page divisions for the larger groups) to easily access informational displays on these plants. More detailed descriptions and information on how to use them are now available in our new publication, Plants for a Thirsty State, in PDF format. Click here to download the complete publication, with color covers, in PDF format. A separate, smaller file with just the main body text is available here.

Select A Letter Below
Plant Name Capsule Description
Quercus agrifolia Coast live oak. 25 feet+. Toothed evergreen leaves.
Quercus berberidifolia Scrub oak, to 10 feet. Prickly evergreen leaves, shrub or tree.
Quercus chrysolepis--shrubby form Canyon live oak. Leathery dark green smooth leaves.
Quercus douglasii Blue oak. 25-50 feet. Grey bark, lobed blue leaves. Deciduous.
Quercus durata Leather oak. Evergreen stiff branched shrub to 12 feet.
Quercus glaucoides Canopy tree with sturdy leaves that are peach when new, then blue-grey.
Quercus kelloggii Black oak. 40 feet or more. Sharp pointed 4-8 inch leaves. Deciduous.
Quercus lobata Valley oak. 40 feet or more. Lobed 3 inch leaves. Deciduous.
Quercus polymorpha Mexican white oak can grow to 50 feet, with leaves to 6 inches long. Semi-evergreen.
Quercus wislizenii Interior live oak grows to 30 feet or more. Evergreen.

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